Send My Conscience Home in a Taxi

Externalised Memory

The Saga of the Missing Ebook
One of my prize possessions is a Kobo Ebook Reader, which was a gift from Deb on my 41st birthday. I was very anti the ebook for a long time, I love books and have thousands of them, and I like being able to hold that solid lump of paper and read it. I also figured that ebooks would suffer the same fate as all the released video tapes. When DVDs became the norm, a lot of films were re-released on the new format, but to this day some 40% have not. I figured the same thing would happen to some of the more obscure books I wanted to read. The example I used was Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, a book published during the second world war. Then someone sent me a link to the Kindle version of it on Amazon...

My tendency towards reading large dense Science Fiction novels and more recently the 4000-odd pages of Game of Thrones also endears the ebook reader to me. The whole GoT series must weight in at three kilos, but on my ebook reader they weight nothing. I've also got a lot of books my Neal Stephenson. One of his latest offerings, Anathem clocks in at 937 pages!

I also read a lot of (big fat) history books. History doesn't lend itself to brevity. And this is where I discovered a flaw in the joy of ebook reader ownership.

I bought a (big fat) history book on the Kobo site, and read it with great interest. It was the first volume of a two volume work, like I said, history is verbose. So I coughed up some more money for the second volume... Only to find that the digital version of the second volume had the same contents as the first - it was the same file, effectively, with a different file name.

I brought this to the attention of Kobo. They have one of those fun email support things, where you fire off an email to them, they respond with an email saying we have received your email and will respond forthwith. Then another email with a response, asking for more information, to which you reply, which prompts another email saying thank you for getting in touch we'll get back to you shortly, then a response from someone else asking for the same information again, and more than likely contradicting the earlier... And thrown into the mix are other emails asking how helpful the first set of emails were and could you fill in a short survey.

Out of this the gist of what they were saying was "contact the publisher, we just publish what we're given". This I did. The publisher turned out to be a tiny specialist imprint from the US called Potomac Books. Emails to the various email addresses listed on their site yielded no response whatsoever.

So one night I stayed up late and called them at 9AM their time, 11PM Melbourne time. In fact I called a couple of times, once I remembered how to dial internationally. I left detailed messages with email addresses and phone numbers. Again there was no response.

One night after another unanswered call, I decided rather than calling their editorial line, I'd try sales. I finally got onto an actual human, who was perplexed by my inquiry, but did provide the useful information that Potomac has recently been bought by the University of Nebraska Press, who handled all their ebooks. Finally!

In the mean time, I thought I'd try and get a copy from elsewhere. It turns out that JBHiFi, of all retailers, now has an ebook site. So I bought another copy of this book from there... And wouldn't you know it, it had the same contents! At least this meant the problem was definitively with the publisher and not Kobo

So I dropped some emails to the folks at Nebraska Press. This process had been going on for about six months by this stage, although I lost interest for months at a time. Finally I got a reply. Yes, the contents were wrong, yes they'd update it. And yes they did... Then Kobo did nothing with it for at least a few weeks till I prompted them again. And finally I got the book onto my reader. Volume II was finally mine to read! And... it wasn't half as interesting as volume one...

It occurred to me afterwards that part of the reason Potomac books might have ignored me was because I must have been the first and so far only person to actually buy the ebook version of this tome. It was a lot of trouble for them to get my $37 for this one book!

And what after all this, was the book in question? Why it was A History of Carrier Aviation and Its Influence on World Events in two volumes by Norman Polmar of course!

Now if this had been a paper book, I'd have been able to look at it in the book shot as an actual physical object and go "wait a second, this is the wrong book!". When everything is digital, there are no words on a page to read before you buy.

Rewatching Tumbledown
Recently I re-watched the BBC TV movie Tumbledown from 1988.

Tumbledown is an evocatively named craggy mountain in the Falklands, scene of one of the largest and bloodiest, and nearly the last, battle of the brief Falklands War back in 1982.

That little war is almost forgotten. My partner, who was three at the time it happened, knows barely its name. I'm old enough to remember it happening, but to not really understand it at the time. There seemed to be headlines every few days about ships being sunk - The General Belgrano, the SS Atlantic Conveyor.

The "television play" Tumbledown concerns the plight of one Lieutenant Robert Lawrence, who leads his troops through the crucial parts of the battle on that mountain. And just as they're victorious, Lawrence was shot through the head. Miraculously he survives, eventually loosing 43% of his brain and being partly paralysed.

The film is remarkable for its brutally honest depiction of the war and its casualties, and the remarkable story of Lawrence's recovery. And indeed the indifference with which he was treated after the war was over.

I remember being quite struck by the it when it was shown on the ABC back in the late 80's. Several scenes from it have stayed with me, for example almost the last scene where we finally witness the shooting itself.

What's remarkable about re-watching more than twenty years later is how well made and acted the film was, and how there was a whole lot of subtlety to it that I entirely missed when watching it as a teenager. Several scenes I recalled feeling like the lead character was being mocked or bullied were nothing of the sort - he was a tough cookie, not about be pushed around. The scene's with his girlfriend were also had a dimension I didn't catch back in the day.

It's well worth looking up. It's brutal and unvarnished, and remarkably honest. Most docos or movies about war have a heroic or reverential tone to them, whereas war is both dull, brutal and finally very damaging to the people who survive it. Even "little" wars like the Falklands leave the combatants physically and emotionally mangled for life.

Here's the first part:

Robert Lawrence recovered enough to lead a relatively normal life. He lived in Sydney for a few years in the 90's, but is now back in the UK. He's still remarkably candid about his experiences and his opinions of the war and its aftermath.

And here is a strange little historical oddity. This piece was composed by the Scots Guards bagpipe player to commemorate the battle of Tumbeldown while the battle was happening. He jotted it down on the "back of a fag packet" is how he put it. This musician composed music on top of a miserable cold mountain at night during a pitched battle, then performed it at dawn on the mountain!

A Typical Toddler Phone Call
Dancing Kitty
Deb called me up on the way home from work. I'd been having a pretty shit public transport experience, with lots of waiting in the cold. But I was finally on a train.

My mobile rang. I had my headphones in, and always feel like I should hold up the microphone to my mouth so it doesn't look like I was talking to myself.

Me: Hey baby.
Deb: Hey are you still in your...
(Cut to some weird hold music)
Deb: Hey I think the phone battery is flat.
Me: Weird, I keep getting hold music
Deb: No don't push that button Pip!
(Cut to weird hold music again.)
Deb: I don't know what button to...
(Hold music continues)

At this point I hung up and called her back.

Deb: Hey you're on a conference call!
Me: Don't you mean on the speaker phone?
Deb: Yeah, yeah!
(Sound of phone buttons being mashed, followed by the heavy breathing)
Pip: *giggles*
(More hold music)
Deb: Are you there?
Me: Take the phone off Pip!
(Somehow there are now two phones on the call. Pip brings his close to the speaker phone which causes bizarre whistling feedback.)
Deb: Give me the phone Pip. Oh, no, not like that!
(Sound of things being dropped, then a child falling over against a wall.)
Pip: Waaah! Waaaah!
Deb: You're OK pip, you're OK. So, are you far away?
Me: Um, I don't know
Train announcement: Now arriving at Croxton
Me: I'm at Croxton!
Deb: Cool. No, Pip! Not the buttons!
(More hold music)
Deb: Are you there?
Me: Hang up! Hang up! I'll see you soon!
(I hang up.)

Pip likes telephones, but not to talk on. He likes them because of all the buttons!

Today was my birthday!
Badtz Maru

I am now forty two years old. Those of you who are as huge nerds as me will know that this is in fact the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything!

Oh man, speaking of epic nerds - the chaps at Google clearly are, this is what popped up when I did a google search for the above:

I was half planning a Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy themed birthday party, but between wrangling our eight month old son and working full time, it got to be too much like work. Might still do it later in the year.

I'm not working Friday's at the moment, since Deb went back to work. So I went out to breakfast with my sister, brother-in-law and niece, who remarkably are in the country - this is a rare, maybe twice a year, event. Then we all went off to the zoo! Didn't take many pictures - too much going on with two kids under four. And lets face it, how many pictures of the tigers in the zoo are there out there? My niece is hilarious - she had to ask her mother what her favourite animal was. For the record, my favourite mammal is the wombat. I have other favourite animals from other categories, but just at the moment I can't think what they are...

I'm not sure how much Pip understood of the Zoo. It was his first trip, the first part of which he spent asleep. He did stare intently at wallaby, watched a seal swimming and stared more at some Merecats. BTW I believe the Merecat evolved specificity to entertain small children at the zoo. They're tiny and always busy, and can be seen at low level. The best critter for a kid to look at.

Deb got me the best present, she located a copy of What-a-Mess, a kids book I used to read as a kid.

And now I need to sleep. My thighs are tired from carrying our nine kilo son for three hours!
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This Little Piggy Went To the Tax Accountant
Badtz Maru 2
can I claim a deduction for toys?
"Can I claim a deduction for toys?"

My kid is a little charmer. We were running about doing errands Monday. First stop was Deb's dentist, conveniently located in East St Kilda. And weirdly across the street from an apartment I shared with my then girlfriend back in 2003!

There were two little old ladies also in the waiting room. They were most charmed by Henry. I was telling one of them how his teeth were bothering him. She said "They'll do that for your whole life". The other little old lady said "They grow up so quickly. I still remember when my son was that age. Now he's 57..."

Then we ended up at a tax accountant to do our taxes, oddly enough. It was only afterwards that I realised that said accountant sat at a desk without a computer on it. The last time I saw anyone working at a desk without a PC on it was in about 1995...

Henry amused himself by flailing about on the office floor. As we waited, Deb invented a new version of a popular old kids song as we played with Henry's toes:

"This little piggy went to the tax accountant
This little piggy stayed at home
This little piggy was claimed as a dependant for tax purposes..."

Turns out the accountant had ten(!) grand children, and was quite pleased to meet Henry.
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Accosted By Hungry Rosellas!
Dancing Kitty
Rosella Shoulder
I was down at Wilsons Prom today - we're staying nearby. There was a gap in the rain so we popped over to Tidal River. Almost as soon as we'd parked a flock of nosy Rosellas flew over and landed on the car. Someone's been feeding this lot, as well as the Magpie who had attached himself to the group.

I attempted to have a banana as a snack, whereupon the boldest of the birds leaped onto my arm! First he pecked at the banana peel I had in my hand, then hopped onto my other hand hand started helping himself to my banana! Cheeky bird.

I had Pip on my back in his sling, while then trying to eat come rice crackers. One of the Rosella landed on my head and then tried to eat a cracker right from my hand. Bad birdie! You freaked out my son!

Rosella on car

We poked around the prom a bit, and without really trying saw two wombats, two kangaroos, a wallaby and two emus (or possibly the same emu twice). And two rabbits and a fox as well, unfortunately. I yelled at them to begone, vermin, but they didn't listen.

Australian wildlife is weird. I've never seen an emu in the wild before, they're an awkward looking bird.

We also bumped into three lovely French tourists. Henry being the charmer that he is, instantly befriended them. They said to him "Bonjour Henri!", although I really can't rendered how lovely the French pronunciation of Henry is :-D

Australia: The Land of Literal Place Names
Badtz Maru 2
I'm currently staying at Sandy Point. It is indeed a point, and it is quite sandy. It's next to body of water called Shallow Inlet which is, as you've probably guessed, a shallow inlet.

View Larger Map

The nearest town to here is called Fish Creek, which is on a creek which, presumably, has a whole lot of fish in it. About an hours drive east of here is a place called Ninety Mile Beach which is, who knew, a beach 90 miles long.

Ah Australia, the place that brought you the Great Sandy Desert, the Great Australian Bite, Big Lake, Small Lake and indeed Cockatoo.
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Epic Desk Clean-up and Re-cabling
I'm something of a huge nerd. My desk at home, such as it is - purchased flat-pack from Officeworks some years ago - is an awful mess. The cabling looks like the worst nightmare of a sys admin.

OK, so, it doesn't help that on it there are two PCs, a Mac Mini, a small server, two laptops, two monitors and a naked caseless PC. Oh, and two printers, an ADSL modem, a wireless router and ethernet switch. And two scanners. And a 4-port and 2-port KVM switch. There's even a record player hidden on a lower shelf.

Yes, I do need all this stuff I tell you! The server has five hard drives in it for a total of 7.25 terabytes of storage for all my stuff. Then there's my main PC, an older PC running Windows XP so I can play games and run old hardware. Then there's my fun little laptop which I take everywhere, an old Mac laptop my mother gave me which I use to back up my iPhone. And the Mac Mini, which has been re-purposed as a windows 7 machine which runs 24/7 downloading stuff. And the PC in bits used to be my old work PC. Currently it thinks it's a Linux box, while I try to get some data off an old RAID from a NAS.... One printer is a duplex (double sided) laser, the other a rarely used colour printer... Look, I feel like I can justify all this shit, I swear.

There's a joke going around that the number of bikes you need to own is N + 1, where N = the current number of bikes you own. This can also be expressed as R - 1 where R = the number of bikes at which your partner leaves you. I may be approaching that point for computers rather than bikes... (Note: there are also seven bikes in the back garden).

This is the before shot:
Desk before

(Forgot to mention the two keyboard and two mice, and shitty PC speakers!).

I picked up a couple of nice desktop speakers on eBay for cheap, which inspired me to rearrange the thing. (Also forgot to mention: web cam, USB mic and small amplifier! Oh and about 20 CDs. And at least one external hard drive. And a USB number pad...)

Here we see the first layer has been removed:
Desk During

And some evidence of the cabling nightmare:
Some of the cabling mess

That shot includes ethernet cables, power supplies, a web cam, various Mac cables, and... well, prizes for identifying the rest of them.

You can see the whole process here on Flickr. I went to the trouble of tagging things and bought a set of shorter ethernet cables and some cable ties.

The final setup

Left to right: ADSL stuff, PC, speaker, server with Mac Mini on top, 22 inch monitor, Macbook, 19 inch monitor, speaker and desk lamp, naked PC. Also visible in the desk is another PC, and above it two scanners. Note also inbox with all the paper in it. You can also see the remains of my cousin's PC on the wall, and framed street art.

This is something of an improvement - I have more desks space - although in practise the new setup has as complex cabling, it's just better hidden.

Guess Who I found on Livejournal? George RR Martin
Actually, I didn't find it, Annette did (hey, if you're reading this, what's your handle on LJ these days??? Still using ladystardust_xs?)

He's here at grrm, and occasionally posts great pictures like this image of the Iron Throne:

Oh, for those not following along at home, George RR Martin is the author of A Song of Fire and Ice, aka Game of Thrones. Not to be confused with George Martin, who produced most of the Beatles records!

Today is my Sponsor Child's Tenth Birthday
Space Man
I direct you to my blog post on Pippy Quark on the subject.

I should work out how to cross post from Wordpress to LJ.

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